Brilliant white slingbacks with red and yellow flowers on epic green stalks at least several inches too high; leopard-print Mary Janes that keep you way up off the ground; hand-painted pink and purple glittery loafers on stilts. For many of us the last few months have meant a tight footwear rotation focused on practicality – namely sandals and slippers – but over on Instagram, @platformmuseum has been documenting fashion’s most flamboyant option: the platform shoe. Part bold nostalgia, part post-COVID fantasy and ultimately a gold standard in design possibility, the page is dedicated to this icon of construction.
"I was completely obsessed with platforms as a kid," explains the account’s Seattle-based founder Audrey, who credits the Spice Girls with her early fixation. "Remember those huge platform flip-flops with the terry cloth straps? I remember wanting a pair more than anything. Sugar Shoes had some flip-flops in the early 2000s called Floaties that were platformed and looked inflatable; I had a black pair with ice cream cone decals that eventually melted to the hot pavement one summer. It was very traumatic."
Audrey’s obsession continued into her tweens when she learned about The Runaways, which led to an enthusiasm for David Bowie and eventually the arrival of the 'museum'. "I started the account last August because I found myself scrolling through platforms that I could not afford on eBay and Etsy," she tells Refinery29. "I posted my findings to my personal Instagram and received an enthusiastic response. Then @platformmuseum was born!"
Selecting the moniker on account of the page’s archival focus – "The submitted images are sort of ‘on loan’ to the museum," says Audrey – @platformmuseum is fine-tuned to the iconic style’s late 20th century history, with much of its display from the '70s and '90s. "So many platforms, especially 1970s and earlier, are handmade or one-of-a-kind pieces of folk art. So now my goal is to archive as many pairs of crazy platforms as I can." Curated so as to emphasise each style’s aesthetic characteristics, the images range from simple eBay seller and museum catalogue-alike pictures of individual pairs to slideshows of famous fans (Mel B’s cult collection highlights her leopard-print Buffalos) and photographs such as Bruno Barbey’s 1976 image of women admiring a shop window in Tehran.
The recent history of the style – platform shoes have origins in ancient Greek theatre, while Salvatore Ferragamo is credited with popularising their return in the 1930s with his celebrated rainbow-soled design – is as much a part of pop culture as it is fashion. Since the 1970s, the platform has enjoyed widespread popularity on concert stages, catwalk shows and dance floors, closely associated with a number of famous personalities and celebrated moments in the late 20th century.
"The platform shape has been around for a long time. If you look at the last 100 years, platforms have come in and out of style every 20-30 years. There are some incredible platforms from the 1930s and '40s – look at Mae West! – and then the shoes and heels got small and delicate through the 1950s and '60s," offers Audrey, whose interest is purely extracurricular – "I’m absolutely not a fashion historian," she insists (her day job is in record stores). "The 1970s roll around and platforms are in again and bigger than ever but shrink through the 1980s and '90s. The late 1990s and early 2000s they’re in style again thanks to the Spice Girls. The same thing happens with wide leg vs fitted pants, I think it’s just the natural pattern of nostalgia affecting the fashion industry."
Worn by everyone from the Bay City Rollers to your mum and dad on the King’s Road in the 1970s, the style has never been without controversy. In one video clip from 1977, a journalist explores the effects of platform shoes on the body (and is semi-trolled by a woman who casually responds that any problems with her feet were "probably caused by the winklepickers I wore a few years earlier").
In the 1990s Baby Spice famously injured her ankle while wearing her trademark platforms, and in 1993 Naomi Campbell took a career-defining tumble at Vivienne Westwood while modelling a pair of blue mock croc 21cm heels. The image of Campbell sitting almost triumphantly in the middle of the catwalk has become fashion legend, and the shoes later featured in the V&A’s 2015 exhibition Shoes: Pleasure & Pain, dedicated to our complicated relationship with obstructive footwear. Neither of these incidents stopped high street faves like Shellys, Faith, Ravel and Tammy Girl putting out their own versions at the height of the trend – and likely causing damage (both emotional and physical) at Year Six discos across the UK.
Audrey credits the latest revival to Jeffrey Campbell, who in 2010 introduced the Lita boot – named after The Runaways’ Lita Ford – which quickly became synonymous with fashion week street style. Just preceding the Lita in 2009, (then Yves) Saint Laurent’s Tribute references the style’s fetishistic nature, borrowing its thick sole and tapering heel from the transparent shoes more commonly associated with strip clubs. The Tribute continues to be sold under the fashion house’s current creative director, Anthony Vaccarello.
Elsewhere Miu Miu and Prada have long championed platforms, while Gucci too has picked up on the trend in recent seasons, producing its iconic loafer style on an elevated sole. Meanwhile for AW16 Marc Jacobs introduced a giant gothic boot, revising it for SS17 with festival-appropriate motifs. Jacobs himself has spent lockdown showcasing a brilliant personal collection of platforms via his Instagram @themarcjacobs, to the point that Vogue penned an article with the headline "Marc Jacobs Will Wear Platform Heels & Mikimoto Pearls To The Apocalypse".
"Platforms represent a type of power and confidence," Audrey observes of the style’s continued resonance. "They really are the most noticeable and impractical type of shoe but I think we all sort of desire to be a person that has the confidence to sport a pair of huge platforms." Her own preferences? "I have a couple of pairs but I certainly don’t wear them daily! Platforms are completely impractical. This is another reason why I started the museum, so that I can live vicariously through it."